Making his World Baseball Classic debut, fulfilling a dream more than a decade in the making, right-hander Chris Archer flamed up to 97 mph and scattered 41 pitches over four perfect innings in Team USA's 3-2 walk-off win over Colombia on Friday night at Marlins Park in Miami."It was amazing.
Making his World Baseball Classic debut, fulfilling a dream more than a decade in the making, right-hander Chris Archer flamed up to 97 mph and scattered 41 pitches over four perfect innings in Team USA's 3-2 walk-off win over Colombia on Friday night at Marlins Park in Miami.
"It was amazing. It was better than I dreamed," Archer told MLB Network during the ninth inning. "That's what happens a lot. Reality surpasses dreams for the most part, for me."
After exceeding his longest perfect-game bid of 2016 by one inning, Archer exited well short of the 65-pitch threshold for pitchers in the first round, part of his conditioning agreement with the Rays while he's away from the club.
Archer complemented his heater with 15 off-speed pitches, almost solely his slider, which he delivered often in succession by throwing it repeatedly. He exploited the outside corners, mostly low and away, to a limited Colombia lineup, striking out three.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
After he left the game to a throng of embraces in the dugout, he threw a cool-down session in the bullpen.
"It was tough. Looking in [manager] Jim Leyland's eyes and telling him that I had to shut it down, it was tough," Archer said. "But I'm obligated to the Tampa Bay Rays. We had a plan coming in. We knew that was a possibility. ... I'm glad [Leyland] didn't put too much pressure on me to stay in, but it was definitely tough."
Archer's Colombian counterpart, Jose Quintana, was just as impressive, hurling 5 2/3 hitless innings and leaving after giving up a single to Brandon Crawford on his 63rd pitch. Quintana became the first starting pitcher in WBC 2017 to reach the sixth inning.
Leyland, who tabbed Archer as an Opening Day starter of sorts for the star-studded American team, was cognizant of pitch-count efficiency. Though highly unlikely, Archer remains eligible to throw in Team USA's Pool C finale on Sunday against Canada because he didn't reach a 50-pitch threshold, which would require just one day's rest between outings in the first round.
"Well, it's obviously a little difficult. I don't think there's any question about that and, of course, you have the pitch limit for a purpose," Leyland said prior to the game of pitch-count strategy. "That gets a little tricky, too. This is a little bit different handling your pitching. You've got to do it a little bit different than you would during the normal season, unless you were fortunate enough to move on pretty deep into the tournament, that could change a little bit, but this first go-around is pretty tricky."
Archer, the Rays All-Star ace, took a statistical step back in 2016 -- at least by his measures. His 4.02 ERA was his highest since his 2012 rookie year, and his 19 losses were an American League worst.
Yet he logged 200 innings for the second straight season, and from July 20 on, he posted a 3.11 ERA with 97 strikeouts, tied for fifth-most in MLB in that span, with a .605 OPS against, sixth-best. Over the past two seasons, his 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings trailed only Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer.
"There were four or five times pregame where I got chills, honestly," Archer said. "I was just looking at my arm and just like, I can't believe this. Seeing my parents' faces when I walked in, it was special. Giving high-fives to these [Team USA] guys, seeing the type of competitors they are, it was a special experience."
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.